If NFL fans needed any indication that Week 1 would be a rough one for teams and players, the opening kickoff delivered it to the San Diego Chargers. Not only did they allow Minnesota’s Percy Harvin to return it for a 103-yard touchdown, but kicker Nate Kaeding will miss the entire season after tearing his ACL on that kickoff. I reviewed the injury reports for all 32 teams Monday evening. By the time I finished, I fully expected Hank Williams Jr. to open Monday Night Football by singing, “Are you ready for some Advil?”
I discussed the apparent surge of injuries in the preseason and debated the effect of the lockout in an earlier column. But like most NFL fans, I hoped that once the season started, exciting games and thrilling plays would be the talk across the sports landscape. Instead, injuries have dominated the headlines.
On the day the NFL opener saw it’s second-largest television audience (an estimated 27.2 million viewers in the U.S.), the story of that day was the announcement that likely changed the season for the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton Manning underwent a fusion of a single level of his cervical spine earlier that morning. He underwent the surgery after slow improvement from a surgery in May to relieve pressure on a nerve from a bulging disc in his neck. The Colts have not yet placed Manning on Injured Reserve, but the star quarterback is expected to miss at least 2-3 months.
Locally, the Charlotte Panthers made headlines by drafting Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton with the first pick of the NFL draft. And while his opening day performance drew rave reviews, it was somewhat overshadowed by linebacker and defensive leader Jon Beason’s season-ending Achilles tendon rupture.
Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs were a playoff surprise. This year, fans watched a humiliating loss to the normally woeful Buffalo Bills. Adding insult to injury is the news that safety Eric Berry suffered a torn ACL from a hit by Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson. Chiefs fans were outraged that Johnson appeared to intentionally aim for Berry’s knee, but Bills coach Chan Gailey argued that the hit was perfectly legal because it occurred in open field. It might be a rule the owners should consider changing to protect players in coming years.
Speaking of rule changes, I doubt that NFL owners expected a torn ACL on a kickoff after moving them from the 30-yard-line to the 35. It will be interesting to see if concussions and other traumatic injuries on kickoffs decrease this year. But while Kaeding’s ACL grabbed attention, the Chargers also lost defensive end Luis Castillo to a tibia fracture.
The Pittsburgh Steelers made the Super Bowl last year despite a decimated offensive line, including losing offensive tackle Willie Colon to a ruptured Achilles tendon. In his first regular season game this year, Colon tore the triceps tendon in his elbow. He was scheduled to undergo season-ending surgery Tuesday.
And if any team had a worse week than my St. Louis Rams, I can’t imagine how. Starting quarterback Sam Bradford was removed in the fourth quarter after hurting the index finger of his right hand. Star running back Steven Jackson will likely miss several weeks with a strained quadriceps. Wide receiver Danny Amendola is out indefinitely with a dislocated elbow. And cornerback Ron Bartell, initially thought to have only a stinger, will probably miss the entire season after studies revealed two fractures in his cervical spine. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo reportedly called the team’s injury report the worst of his three seasons.
And I could go on and on.
Now I realize that it is only one week. And I have preached many times in this column that fans should step back and resist drawing conclusions based on too narrow a sample of games and injuries. But as a fan, I hope that the stories from this NFL season feature touchdowns and playoff battles instead of stretchers and surgeries.
Did your team have any serious injuries? Do you want to know more about them? Let me know, and I’ll try to explain them!
Note: The following post will appear as a column in the September 14, 2011 edition of The Post and Courier.